• Laura Moir

Street View Project: VR Recordings

I've written previous blog posts on my passion project of sharing pre-quake Street View imagery of Christchurch. See here and here!

Some months ago (took me that long to make a write-up, thanks life!) I went into the VR world of Google Earth and recorded these videos using Echo360 at the UC Arts Digital Lab. View them on my channel here.

As I said in my previous posts, all this imagery is available using Street View's Time Machine. However, this can be hard to access and even harder to navigate cohesively...

Google Earth VR is incredibly immersive. In its ideal use case, you can navigate a city like a tourist, viewing 360º images.

But here's what happens when you navigate Christchurch's CBD...

One second in 2014, the next 2018, and the satellite imagery

Why does this happen? As Google Earth VR doesn't have a time machine feature, the street view displayed at any given location is by default the most recent imagery. Same for any app that isn't Google Maps on a desktop browser*, including smart phone apps - try it yourself in the red zone!

Most of the time, this doesn't affect the Street View experience a lot - Google captures all the roads in major cities every few years, so all that might change is the time of day, season, shop front changes. In most of the world, roads and infrastructure change minimally.

But in Christchurch, the changes are massive. A number of roads around the city have been blocked off to the public. Some immediately following the quakes, and some later. There are new roads, new intersections and extra lanes. In Street View, this means if you take a step over the barrier, or onto the now non-existent street, you may find yourself transported back to 2007, 2012, or 2014.

A bug? A feature? At any rate, this is a great tool for exploring the rapidly changing face of Christchurch post-quakes.

My next example is of 2007 along River Road. When we reach Stanmore Road, we get to see the current reality.

For an example of what this street could have looked like now... Fitfield Terrace, Opawa.

Google Maps Street View car caught some good snapshots of red-zone living where the images were last taken in 2012. Watch this example of Avondale:

This captures a time many have forgotten, or can't forget - a life of portaloos, silt, flooding, zoning and rezoning, amid constant deconstruction.

This next example quite excited me. I recognise most of the Street View images from the desktop Time Machine when I used the VR, but once I entered a Street View bubble right near the YMCA on Rolleston Ave. Looking around a bit, I realised this was a new 'track', from what I guess to be 2014-16. It was a new view for me, empty lots where there are now buildings or visa versa, different scenes and even a market at a vibrant container mall.

It's a long one but skip to 2 minutes in for Oxford Terrace and Cashel Street. See the 'Terrace' signs! I'm still yet to find these images on Google Maps.

I see these easter eggs as a proof of concept for a VR time machine of Christchurch. The imagery clearly exists along with the ability to make this immersive environment. All that is needed is for us to put them together.

*Google Earth for desktop offers a 'time machine' function of sorts, but for satellite imagery, which has its own uses.

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